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Building an Eco-Friendly Home
August 2, 2010   
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Going green and cutting energy costs are now key trends in the construction industry, with the focus on reducing damage to the environment and limiting consumption of natural resources.

Environmentally-friendly fuels, lifestyle and food are being heavily promoted. In construction, environmentally-friendly means moving away from toxic materials like asbestos-cement roofing, toxic insulation, weatherproofing chemicals and cement. Eco-friendly often also means energy-saving. Energy conservation is not just about technology but also a way of life and a way of thinking that is gaining popularity in Poland. Buildings should make the greatest possible use of natural energy sources and minimize the consumption of energy for heating. When designing and constructing a new building or modernizing an existing one, the important thing is to make sure that proper use is made of energy-saving structural ideas (building materials, insulation, windows), heating and air-conditioning systems, automated control systems for maintaining a microclimate in the usable spaces.

Passive buildings

A passive building is a special type of house. Simply put, it is a well insulated building with a special ventilation system. In traditional construction, it takes about 35 cubic meters of natural gas per year to heat 1 square meter. In a building constructed using passive technology, 1.5 cubic meters per year will be enough. In a 100-sq-m house, that means savings of over 3,000 cubic meters of gas.

Under European Union rules, a passive building is one whose annual demand for heat does not exceed 15 kWh/sq m and does not involve an increase of energy consumption for other purposes (electricity, for example). In addition, the total amount of energy consumed in a passive building cannot be greater than 120 kWh/sq m (heating, hot service water, electrical appliances, lighting). Any additional demand for energy can be covered from renewable energy.

Some principles of “traditional” construction are also important in eco-friendly design, namely factors such as the building’s location and shape. These ensure the building has proper exposition to sunlight and gets enough daylight.

A building’s interior is also a major consideration, namely the layout (depending on the function and usage time of rooms) and creating or adapting the building’s structure for passive use of energy from sunlight with the help of buffer spaces, collector walls and walls that store captured solar energy. The demand for energy needs to be predicted accurately at the design stage and then technical solutions can be introduced that will bring the building’s thermal balance close to zero.

Powered by nature

Eco-friendly construction is not just about technology and materials, but a much broader idea. These are buildings in harmony with their surroundings, buildings emerging from nature and powered by the elements: wind, sun and water. Examples include buildings with solar energy collectors on the roof for heating water. Solar energy heats a special non-freezing liquid that is then carried via copper pipes to a boiler. Through a heat exchanger in the boiler, water is heated while the special liquid cools down. The liquid then returns to a collection point and the cycle starts all over again.

An eco-friendly building should have its own biological waste treatment plant. Household waste is treated mechanically first, then channeled to the biological treatment plant. There, the waste is decomposed by aerobic bacteria on slowly revolving “biodisks.” Water flowing from the waste treatment plant should be of grade 2 purity, then it can be used to supply a water feature in the garden, for example. For watering the garden, you can use rainwater. With this in mind, the project should include a tank next to the house to collect rainwater flowing off the roof.

Mobile homes are also becoming popular. Until now, when you wanted to build your own house you had two options. One was simply to choose a developer and pay them to build you a home. The other one, obviously, was to build it yourself, with all the consequent hassle of choosing and then overseeing various construction crews. Both options have pros and cons. Choosing a developer can involve financial risk, while running your own construction project can be a drain on time and energy. Today anyone planning such a venture can look into a third option: ordering a home that can be ready within three weeks. Mobile homes can be assembled in unconventional places such as a lake shore, a hillside, a beach or a high-rise roof. The main limitation in such cases is the space needed for the crane that lifts and transports the parts of the building, which are prepared in advance.

Unfortunately in Poland there is still a predominance of buildings whose energy consumption can reach 400 kWh/sq m per year. The main causes are usually poorly insulated windows, walls that freeze through, insufficiently insulated roofs and floors and outdated heating systems. Buildings are often poorly situated and of the wrong shape. This makes the fashion for eco-friendly housing all the more needed. The popularity of energy-saving construction, which is growing by the year, is also related to growing energy prices. In the near future most Polish people will likely continue to build traditional houses, but the number of energy-saving buildings is sure to increase with time. Soon, we will see entire towns of eco-friendly projects, one could even say “green towns,” where life will be much more pleasant than it is today.
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